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3 ways to build inclusion in hybrid work

The new trend of hybrid working, which is when employers offer employees a chance to work from home or to work from the office to offer more flexibility, is gaining momentum across many sectors and many organisation types. If they could, 98% of people would choose to work remotely, at least part-time, for the rest of their careers, according to Buffer. As hybrid working is becoming more mainstream, employers should consider how they will build inclusion and offer the same access to opportunities to all their employees. Organisations need to avoid creating a two-tier workforce: one that gets more promoted and rewarded for being present and visible in the office and one that gets penalised for stay at home due to special needs. A study by the IFS and the UCL Institute of Education found that mothers were more likely than fathers to spend their working hours simultaneously caring for children, pointing out that certain groups of employees could be more penalised than others in a hybrid workplace. In this article, I will share how to build inclusion in hybrid work and offer equal access to work opportunities to all employees.

1) Develop managers and team leaders

In a hybrid work model, distance bias is at play more than in a traditional work model.

Distance bias is the tendency to favor people who are closer to us in time and space. In other words, managers and team leaders prefer who is closer over who is farther away.

Employers can mitigate distance biases with training and workshops for managers that educates them on how to acknowledge important employees outside their direct proximity, such as by calling on remote colleagues first in a meeting before discussing with the room.

Managers and team leaders need to know how to set the tone for an inclusive leadership in hybrid work. Most managers have never been trained on how to foster inclusion in hybrid work so it is critical that they attend workshops on how to foster inclusion in hybrid work to learn the tools to do so. To learn more about how to be an inclusive leader, read my book, Inclusion: the ultimate secret for an organization’s success.

Managers should also attend training on how to host inclusive meetings in hybrid work. It could mean introducing a rule whereby if one person dials in remotely, everyone has to dial in remotely as well; it could also mean training managers on how to chair hybrid meetings more inclusively.

Maybe one of the most critical skills that should be taught in a training is teaching managers how to manage by outputs rather than inputs. Everyone who has a responsibility for talent should be trained on the fact that value comes from the quality of the work rather than the time spent in an office chair. Test how inclusive you are with this two-minute quiz.

2) Review communication channels

Many components should be taken into consideration to effectively review and even open up new communication channels. Firstly, it’s important to explicitly describe which channels should be used for various types of communications, across email, chat apps, meetings, etc… Secondly, employers should clearly encourage more inclusive practices such as choosing to use group email threats where project discussions are visible to everyone rather than one-to-one email threads that exclude people who should be in the loop. Finally, one-to-one meetings structure should be reviewed to ensure that they allow sufficient time for feedback from each employee about their work setting. Some remote-work employees might feel like they need more exposure in meetings, or they might feel like they get left our from certain opportunities because they are less visible. By setting a specific time for employee feedback on their work setting in one-to-one meetings, managers ensure they give each employee a chance to speak up about their feelings regarding their work set-up.

Overall, documenting conversations via digital channels rather than using only in-person conversations that don’t include the wider team should become the new normal in a hybrid workplace.

Read more about ways to foster inclusion at work by reading How to foster true inclusion at work every single day.

3) Organize in-person team building activities

In-person interactions strengthen employee relationships in a way that virtual meetings don’t. Face-to-face activities also help bridge a physical divide between office employees and fully remote employees. Managers and team leaders should plan in-person team building events (once authorities allow it), even if these are optional to attend.

An MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory study revealed that 35% of the variation in a team’s performance can be accounted for simply by the number of face-to-face exchanges among team members.

The research also found that social time turns out to be deeply critical to team performance, often accounting for more than 50% of positive changes in communication patterns, even in a setting as efficiency-focused as a call center. Find out why inclusive leaders are key to successful organisational change by watching my Youtube video: Inclusive Leaders Are Key to Change Management (For These 3 Reasons).

COVID-19 has given employers an opportunity to think about the old concept of presenteeism at work. It would be a missed opportunity to ignore this chance to embrace a more forward-thinking way of working: hybrid working. However, hybrid working should be implemented in a way that is inclusive of all employees, not just those who work in the office. Employers have a unique opportunity to lead with hybrid work if they implement new ways to prioritize inclusion.

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